The subject of equality and how men act towards women has only become more relevant since I wrote The Joy of Ex.

The novel follows the story of a bet between two [male] friends about the nature of love and whether someone who once loved you can love you again.

The novel was written from the point of view of the men – they always say write about what you know – but I wanted to extenuate the pressures which make men behave the way they do towards women.

The ongoing themes were the three “M”s of marriage, maternity and mortgage which I had found men so feared.

They build up walls and hide from each of these types of commitment – some of these issues more than others (and some men more than other men), I depict a protagonist who has a mortgage, but a profound fear of marriage and maternity.

This created a tale to explore these themes, against a back drop of a bet, which only heightened the sense of disconnect from women.

When I first sent the manuscript to agents I got a call from one. I was pleased, I had a list of 70+ agents to send the manuscript to and the first round had resulted in a call. I assumed there would be more calls.

Flashback to 2001 and my previous novel, UHF Shadow I had sent this to lots of agents and one had called back. It was a Wednesday, I know as I was in the office late on deadline day putting the newspaper to bed and I took the call and walked away from my desk, the journalists and subs watching me stroll off to take a private call on my mobile. She wanted to see the whole novel as she liked the sample chapters I had sent. I sent these off the next day. I didn’t get a deal. But I learnt my work was good enough for all of it to be seen by an agent.

Back to the novel in hand (I may well write more about UHF Shadow another day).

I knew The Joy of Ex was better than UHF Shadow, the main criticism from people who read the earlier work was there was a story, but the premise was weak.

I took on board the constructive criticism and The Joy of Ex was premise through and through – that bet was a beautiful premise upon which hung lots of episodes which built up into a whole narrative.

In the great Chekov tradition, I loaded lots of bullets at the start and shot them off one by one. With the biggest one being shot with the reveal of the reason behind his fear of marriage and maternity.

When I took the call about The Joy of Ex after sending out only the the first wave of samples, I figured there were going to be lots of calls.

This agent said she liked the concept and would sign the book if I agreed to do one thing for her.

As I say, this was the first wave of samples, I assumed there would be lots of interest if this was anything to go by.

She asked for a complete re-write of the novel to make it from a woman’s point of view.

This: a) seemed like a bucket load of work; and b) would mean writing about something I didn’t know – I’d never been a woman, so how could I write as one?

I said: “No”.

Talk about a sliding doors moment.

That one word has no doubt defined everything which has happened to me since I spoke that simple syllable.

No other agent even so much as called me.

Sanitised versions of my concept sprung up. Maybe this is coincidence and maybe this is connected. I will never know for sure.

Since I wrote the novel the concept of toxic masculinity has become something I am aware of. Thanks in part to Tim Winton, a great Australian novelist who has an ongoing theme around masculinity in our modern world.

The two men in The Joy of Ex are completely toxic. I even led the reader up a garden path of redemption towards the end of the novel*, only for it to roll away with the wind. He was just too toxic for salvation.

I had always intended the protagonist to be an anti hero. A bastard who perhaps women would love to hate.

The type of male I was trying to create would be just the type of guy women flocked to the worse his alpha male behaviour became.

I wrote The Joy of Ex intentionally to be challenging and thought provoking. There is a line in The Doors where Val Kilmer’s Jim Morrison says: “I guess I always liked being hated” – this line was in my mind as I wrote the novel and I think this shines from the character.

Indeed, the close of the novel refers to the protagonist knowing he was exactly what his sister had called him.

I had used the word already in the novel, so avoided a second C-bomb at the end, feeling the repeat would detract from the power of using it in the first place.

The Joy of Ex was published more than a decade ago. It had premise and a plot.

In retrospect, I think I could have made the irony around the toxicity of these men more apparent. Hindsight is 2020.

Life is all about learning and I know the jump from book to book has made me a better writer, both in terms of reflecting on what I had written and the time passing between each.

In the end I self-published The Joy of Ex as I had drafted it and didn’t sell many copies. But it can be purchased for Kindle from Amazon here.

I am working on a new novel, but that is a story for another day. Hopefully a decade from now I will not be lamenting either not getting my message across as I had intended, nor another sliding doors moment over the fate of this new book.

* I certainly played with the idea of a cut away where Lorna Adams goes home to her fatherless son, but I felt that was letting them both off the hook and didn’t stand up in the logic of the narrative, so got cut.

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Books I read in 2018

December 31, 2018

As usual I have read lots of books this last 12 months.

Ones which stand out include:

Munich by Robert Harris – manages to make an era which is history to all of us feel very much in the here and now, where all possible outcomes are options and the story we know is not enevitable.

Artemis by Andy Weir – great fun novel, follow up to The Martian, my comments from earlier in the year here.

Elysium Fire by Alistar Reynolds, good sci-fi myestery novel, which I wrote about here.

The Death of Grass by John Wyndham – a bleak novel about the quick descent to anarchy which follows a disease which kills all forms of plant in the grass family – wheat, rice, barley – anything we rely on for carbohydrate aside from root veg. Things go south pretty quickly.

Suicide Club by Rachel Heng – again one I wrote about before, here.

Bad Dad by David Walliams – recomended by my son, a good fun read, with an important message about loving your children being more important than buying them stuff (a very crucial message in a world obsessed by stuff)

//ws-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=GB&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=astapor-21&marketplace=amazon&region=GB&placement=1509863877&asins=1509863877&linkId=2feb7361cc00faedc258cb5090fb02cf&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066C0&bg_color=FFFFFF“>The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton – a beautiful novel exploring redemption, loss and manhood set in purgatory the Australian outback.

Feel free to feedback your thoughts on any of these books.

Happy reading in 2019.

First up, a quick declaration of interest. I am (slowly) working on a novel which looks at the possibilities of life extension.

I almost didn’t read Suicide Club for that reason.

But, I am really glad I did choose to read the novel. Heng can certainly write. Her prose is a thing of beauty and she can really hit the emotional high and low notes when she chooses to.

The narrative carries you along from a 100th birthday party at the outset through the ongoing investigation following a minor road traffic accident, covering off some family history, which is revealed later, with a massive emotional impact, to not be quite what we were led to think it was.

Heng creates a world which is believable, the descriptions of the crowded streets of New York are suitably claustrophobic. But, an area which could have been improved upon is the wider world building. I was not totally clear about the social structures in this near future world. Exactly what difference there is between the lives of those who have longer life and those who do not? At one point the narrative makes reference to the general population “wouldn’t touch a lifer” but it is not really clear why this might be the case. Where would this level of fear come from?

There is reference to the areas outside New York being unpopulated due to low birth rates, but it is unclear why this is the case. While I do believe writers should show rather than tell, I think Heng could have painted the wider world around her narrative in a richer way and this would have enhanced what is already an excellent narrative.

There were also a couple of instances where I was not clear why people with the potential to live forever might not want to. I guess everyone has their own reasons, but if Heng could have made it much more apparent why someone would go to the lengths required in her imagined world of healthcare, I think this would have strengthened the narrative.

Overall, the minor issues I have with the story, do not deter from the narrative enough to make it anything less than a good novel. Heng is a good writer, her style brings you along and the emotional ups and downs are enjoyable.

Her vision of life extension is based in the world of medicine and health care improvements, while my part written novel is very much not in this vein (I was worried this book would be too close to my creation, which is why I was considering not reading Suicide Club).

If you are looking for a novel which is sci-fi light, but depicts a future world with a deep emotional story, Suicide Club could be just what you are looking for.

Read this story about robots looking after children in Metro.

It is a good point and it is news that a futurologist said this.

And for some reason they refer to a 15 plus year old movie about a robot boy.

(Incidentally the only thing in this movie which I recall being in any way ground breaking for cinema was the idea sex robots, in this case Jude Law, would exist for women.)

In mu opinion it would have made more sense to refer to Issac Asimov’s short story Robbie which was the tale of a robot childminder first published in 1940 whom a child becomes attached to.

Exact same concept (AI is more Pinocchio) and 75+ years old.

The Hobbit turned 80 this week and here is my blog post titled “An unexpected change of pace” from a couple of years ago where I re-read the classic novel by Tolkien.wp-1455455294830.jpeg

Recent events in Barcelona (thoughts with all those affected) got me thinking again about how I consume news.

I first wrote seven years ago about social media versus traditional news outlets as a source of news – blog post here.

I no longer look at news websites on a daily basis. In fact only during the football season do I look on such sites – and this is only to look at Spanish and German results, a somewhat obscure use of such a sprawling resource of information.

Last weekend I choose not to listen to the radio while driving (schedule nowhere near as good as during the week) and instead listened to Led Zeppelin IV, which |I forgot how much I liked, so kept on listening repeatedly all week as I drove.

Only after I saw reactions on Facebook to the events in Barcelona did it occur to me I hadn’t consumed any news this week I hadn’t found on social media.

I almost never read national newspapers (If I have an empty Sunday I may be the Sunday Times, but that is maybe a couple of occasions a year). Only rarely do I read a physical copy of the local paper where I live. I follow them on Facebook and I can see anything relevant to me in my stream, so why spend the 95p?

And it took a terrible event the week I skipped radio for me to notice this media was my main source of news these days outside social media. And I only catch those bulletins because they interrupt the music I listen to while driving.

But doesn’t your job involve monitoring the media for your organisation, you probably won’t ask, Well, yes it does. But I let Google Alerts take care of the media monitoring for me. Every mention pops right into my inbox and so far the alerts I have set up have never failed me.

By not watching TV news, nor reading print or websites direct, the editorial choice about what potential news stories I am served comes from the algorithms of Facebook and Twitter. I have no complaints about what I see in my feeds. But, is that because these algorithms serve me exactly the news I want because they know me, or is it because I don’t know what they don’t tell me? The answer to this is unclear to me.

What is clear as social media becomes my gateway to the world is my choices about who to follow, what I like, comment on and share feed into these algorithms which shape how I see the world.

Some of you may already have heard of Ready Player One. It is a speculative fiction novel which was released a few years ago with the name Ernest Cline on the cover.

The book is apparently being turned into a movie by no less a genius than Steven Spielberg. I see a massive box office hit.

The narrative contains a series of puzzles which need to be solved to inherit ownership of the VR system the whole world uses. There is a rival conglomerate trying a hostile takeover via attempting to win the contest.

After finishing the novel I was pondering some issues I had with it, these are around lack of depth of characters as well as a tendency towards telling not showing and it occurred to me all the gripes I had with it were the same as I had with The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

The plot of Ready Player One is straight out of the Dan Brown play book and the style of writing is quite similar in my opinion.

It is not unusual for novelists trying a different genre to be asked to use a pen name so the change in direction does not effect sales of future books back in their usual arena. Speculative fiction would be a new genre for Brown as all his works I am aware of are current day thrillers.

I may be way off base here, but did Dan Brown write Ready Player One under the pen name Ernest Cline?

If he did, is there some puzzle within the novel which can be cracked to solve the identity of the writer – from what I know of him, that would be very Dan Brown.

Feel free to prove me wrong in the comments section…

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